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Brief History of the Florida State Baptist Convention

The first efforts to establish some form of Christian witness in what came to be known as Florida were made not by Baptists, but by Spanish Roman Catholics and French Hugenots.

Spanish explorers had made several attempts at establishing some kind of foothold on the Florida peninsula between 1513 and 1560, and although all of them were abortive, the Spanish still maintained that Florida belonged to them. During much of the 17th Century, the Spanish influence broadened and their missionary endeavors reached into three groups of Indians: the Timucuans, the Guales, and the Appalachees. By 1707, the Spanish Catholic missionaries began to lose influence among the Indians as the power and control of Spain diminished in Florida.

Under the terms of the Treaty of Paris, Florida was ceded to England in 1763 and was under British domination until 1783. During the twenty years of English rule, the Anglican Church was established, and Catholicism survived, though greatly weakened. In 1783, England ceded Florida back to Spain, and almost all the English settlers departed. However, Spanish influence in the territory was limited to fortified colonies located in Pensacola and St. Augustine. While across the remainder of the territory, the Calusas and Seminole Indians thrived and controlled the land. In an effort to gain greater control of the territory, the Spanish offered land to settlers from the neighboring Southern states. As these American settlers moved into the territory, they were eager to see Florida become a state. With the Treaty of 1819, the Territory of Florida was formally ceded to the United States

No one knows for certain when the Baptists set foot on Florida soil, but historical evidence indicates that some of the first Baptists in Florida were Southern slaves who had escaped to promised freedom under Spanish rule (1783-1821). Many early settlers entered the state by boat, which resulted in a diverse geographical distribution. Along the coast, they came to Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Key West, Tampa and Pensacola. Although some preaching and organized worship may have occurred earlier, the first established Baptist church in Florida was the Pigeon Creek Baptist Church. It was organized on January 7, 1821, in Nassau County near what is now Callahan. The Spanish flag still waved over Florida. Subsequently Baptist churches were established at Campbellton and Sardis in 1825, and in Jefferson and Leon Counties in 1829.

During the 1830's ten churches organized. In the 1840's, the rate of church starts increased rapidly with 36 churches being organized by the end of 1849. By 1854, when the Florida Baptist State Convention was organized, 19 more had been added to the list. The churches organized in the 1840's and 1850's reflected the increase in the population of the new state and the geographical spread of settlers down the center of the state and along coastal areas as far south as Key West.

The Florida Baptist State Convention was organized November 20th, 1854, by 17 delegates meeting in Madison, Florida, in the home of R. J. Mays, who was elected president. By this time, there were three associations: Florida, West Florida and Alachua.

Source:
"A History of Florida Baptists" by E. Earl Joiner, 1971

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